As It Happens

China's 10-year sentence for Hong Kong bookseller 'extremely brutal', says dissident

China's jailing of a Hong Kong bookseller, who holds Swedish citizenship, for 10 years is "extremely brutal and extremely ridiculous," says a fellow dissident.

Chinese court found Gui Minhai was guilty of illegally sharing intelligence overseas

Protester stick photos of Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai outside the Liaison of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong. Gui was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Tuesday. (Vincent Yu/Associated Press)
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Story Transcript

China's jailing of a Hong Kong bookseller, who holds Swedish citizenship, for 10 years is "extremely brutal and extremely ridiculous," says a fellow dissident.

Gui Minhai first disappeared in 2015, when he was believed to have been abducted by Chinese agents from his seaside home in Thailand. Five Hong Kong booksellers went missing around the same time, only to turn up months later in police custody in mainland China.

On Tuesday a court in China said that they sentenced the bookselller, who sold books about Chinese leaders in Hong Kong, for "illegally providing intelligence overseas." The court also said Gui had asked to have his Chinese citizenship reinstated. 

The Swedish government maintains that Gui is still a Swedish citizen and is demanding access to provide consular support. 

Teng Biao is a human rights activist and lawyer who left China for the U.S. after being arrested and detained himself. He spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about Gui Minhai's case. Here is part of their conversation. 

What are your greatest concerns now that Gui Minhai has been given this 10-year jail sentence?

I think this case is extremely brutal and extremely ridiculous. A foreign citizen was kidnapped on foreign soil ...  and then he was disappeared in China and forced to give confession on official television and he was tortured. 

He was actually forced to give up his citizenship. And now he was sentenced to 10 years for something … which should be totally legal.

Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao says he was forced to flee China because he feared for his life. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

In Canada we know from our own experience that China will not recognize dual citizenship. So his Swedish citizenship … the Chinese government doesn't acknowledge that and won't allow him assistance from Sweden. Is that correct?

Yeah Chinese law doesn't recognize dual citizenship. 

He was among five publishers, Hong Kong booksellers, who were arrested at the same time. The others have been released since then. Do you believe ... his association with bookselling and publishing is the real reason why he is now in prison? 

I think that's the reason he was kidnapped and convicted.

Even if you don't have a Chinese passport, even if you don't live in China, if you anger Chinese government you can be kidnapped in other countries-  Teng Biao

But he was forced to make a confession. You believe it was a forced confession. What have the Chinese say that he has confessed to?

He confessed that he voluntarily went back to China because he had some crime about a traffic incident. But of course that's not his own voluntary choice. 

He has Swedish passport and lived in Thailand. He really has no reason to go back to China because he published a lot of dangerous books.

So why do you think the Chinese authorities are being so harsh with Gui Minhai? Why is he getting focused on the way that the other booksellers did not? 

He published the books about the secret lives of the top leaders of Chinese politics and many Chinese people, including Chinese officials, went to Hong Kong to buy … the books he published.

And that's the reason why Chinese government is angry at him. 

He was literally disappeared for more than two years. He was taken away in front of Swedish diplomat in China. And this case became more and more influential internationally. The government really wanted to give him a severe sentence to silence the international community.

So what role at this point can Sweden play in helping and what role is Sweden playing in all of this? 

After this case happened the Swedish government did negotiate and do something with Chinese government but generally speaking it is not enough. 

And what is worse is that the former Swedish ambassador even helped the Chinese government to give pressure to Angela Gui, Gui Minhai's daughter. So that's totally unacceptable. 

And I think Sweden should not coddle to Chinese government and it has legal and political, moral responsibility to protect its own citizen.

Swedish Culture and Democracy Minister Amanda Lind presents Swedish PEN's Tucholsky Prize to jailed Swedish-Chinese publisher Gui Minhai in Stockholm, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency via the Associated Press)

You left China because you were detained and you have great concerns about how you'd be treated if you would return to China. What hope do you have that you'll ever be able to go back there without fear?

When I was in China, because of my human rights work, I was kidnapped by Chinese secret police for a few times and disappeared and tortured and I was also fired and my family were also targeted.

And for me and many other Chinese dissidents overseas … we are afraid of traveling to Thailand, Vietnam, Burma or Hong Kong because it is likely for us to be kidnapped. 

And this case shows that no one is safe. Even if you don't have a Chinese passport, even if you don't live in China, if you anger Chinese government you can be kidnapped in other countries.


Written by Sarah Jackson with files from the Associated Press. Produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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